Fast Casual Restaurants are Trending

 Fast Casual Restaurant, Sal's Pizza in Billerica, MA.

Fast Casual Restaurant, Sal's Pizza in Billerica, MA.

If you are familiar with the hospitality industry, or even if you just like to eat, it’s pretty certain you’ve heard the term, fast casual. A mash-up of fast food and casual dining, fast casual spots make up a large segment of American eateries and have been increasing in popularity.

Check out the top 4 questions people are asking about fast casual restaurants and learn why this growing trend has consumers eating out a few times each week.

What is Fast Casual? It’s the sweet spot where the ease and convenience of fast food establishments meets the comfort of a sit-down restaurant. You won’t find any table service. You place your order at a counter from menus that feature better quality, fresher ingredients. Then you can sit down to enjoy your meal in a nicely designed dining room. Great examples of fast casual are Chipotle, Panera and Sal’s Pizza while McDonald’s and Wendy’s remain in the fast food world.

How Does the Price Compare? Fast food checks tend to hover between $5 and $7, while a fast casual will average around $9. Driven by a health-conscious mindset, more and more patrons are aware of the nutrition available at restaurants and are willing to pay $8 or higher for better quality food, according to QSR. However, when the price escalates to around $10, they will likely go elsewhere for their meal.

What on the Menu? A clean, inviting atmosphere with great customer service are the tent poles of this business but the fresh, fast and tasty food is what really draws people in. Avoiding microwavable meals, the National Restaurant Association reports 76% of adults will return to a restaurant that offers healthier options. And the hottest items to hit most menus are vegetarian options. According to Mintel, 31% of Americans are practicing meatless days, so more diners are ordering veggie-based dishes, from pizza to burritos to salads, created with local, sustainable ingredients.

Where is the Industry Heading? According to the National Restaurant Association, there are more than one million food service locations in the U.S. The industry employs 14+million people and is expected to add an additional 1.7million by 2026. While fast casual represents the smallest division at 7.5% market share, that doesn’t mean it isn’t growing. In fact, Euromonitor states that fast casual has grown by 550% since 1999 and Absolute Reports estimate that it will rise at a growth rate of 10.71% from now until 2021.

Sources: Washington Post,